There has been an avalanche of sexual misconduct accusations over the last several of months, bringing down a long list of powerful men. I hope this empowers women to know and understand that their word will be believed, in addition to educating everyone what behavior will not be tolerated. My daughter and I were scrolling through a news article detailing the wide range of men who have had their behavior come to light during this period as so many women speak out, prompting a discussion of another incident of sexual abuse in my own life. Wrapping up the telling of the story to her I said I’m hopeful that younger women going forward will know not what to accept, her response, “Know it’s not acceptable? How about men knowing such behavior is wrong to begin with and not do it in the first place! This is just another way in which women continue to have to take responsibility for sexual abuse.” Okay. Right. Wow. You recognize the core of the problem while I’m still working on setting my understanding in the direction of some truth. I’m so thankful we have these discussions, for the both of us, it’s empowering. I’m thankful I have such an honest and open relationship with my daughter allowing for frank discussions about really tough issues.
So my second story of sexual abuse. The first story was the man playing pilot, that happened in my mid-twenties. The story I’m sharing today happened when I was 16 or 17, probably 17, and I was raped by my boyfriend. We had been sexually active previously, but this time I was not a willing participant and the circumstances of the night caused me to feel incredible uneasiness, shame, and belittlement by the act of someone I loved becoming aroused by another person and situation, then using me to get his arousal satisfied. I knew the act had nothing to do with me, I was just the vagina that was available.
The culture of the town we lived in was a little wacked, there was a bar that had very loose rules allowing patronage by minors. I had never been but my boyfriend had and knew how to not only get himself in but on this occasion, me. I didn’t want to go, why the hell would I want to go into a skanky bar with a reputation for shady things going down. But he wanted to go, so I went along – as I often did. There were so many things I did with this person, so many places I went that made me feel like I was crossing the line of what I knew to be right for me, but I would go along believing that was what I had to do to remain in a relationship with him. And when you grow up with a lack of love, and you hit your teen years, you want love more than about anything. Or at least I did. So I went along with all the crazy plans he would come up with to ensure I would continue being on the receiving end of his love. It would be another couple years until I saw the light on this relationship, but in the meantime, I took the love (along with so many slights and abuses) he was handing out to me.
On this particular night the bar was hosting a wet t-shirt contest. Hence the reason he wanted to go. (And why I didn’t, among many other reasons.) We got in, we bought beers and sat down to watch the show begin. The lineup of girls stepped onto the raised platform, stage, one at a time until the end when all the participants got on stage for the final judging – or jeering – I don’t even recall how the shirts got wet, some didn’t even remain on – but all I knew was the horrible mixture of feelings I was experiencing. Here was the boy I was in love with all googly eyed over girls with big breasts under wet t-shirts, hooting and yelping it up with the rest of the crowd until one participate took it all off. I wasn’t even there. I felt fear: I shouldn’t be here, I could get in trouble, I don’t belong here, this doesn’t feel safe. Not safe not just from a legal point of view, but that wasn’t at the core of my fear, my fear was that I was experiencing my boyfriend leer at another woman in front of me, violating any sense that the physical acts we shared were sacred and unique, to be honored and protected. I felt the idea that I was special to him slip away. I felt inadequate. My breasts were small, I was inadequate compared to what was arousing him, sitting right beside me but oblivious to me. And the entire crowd, it was lude and demeaning. It was a psychological nightmare for a young girl so naive about the reality of the world, how men often view women as objects to satisfy their sexual urges, rather than someone to cherish and respect as valuable. I felt like I was dispensable.
By the time the nightmare was over it was late, nearing my 11 o’clock curfew. Yet according to my boyfriend there was time to drive the few miles out to his house, saying something about wanting to have time for sex before taking me home and what would my dad say about what I had done tonight, where I had been, wouldn’t that be funny. No. It was no joke. Nothing about any of this was funny. But I did what he suggested and drove with him out to his house, and as time was running out we didn’t go into the house but rather into the wooded area just behind the gravel pad where the cars parked. And there we had sex. I didn’t want to. I am virtually certain I said so, I wanted to go home, it was late, I didn’t want to go in the woods to pull down my pants, it seemed raw and brutal and lacking any sense of love. It was all about him needing to get off. “Oh, come on, out in the woods, it’s exciting right!” No. It was cold, I was tired and I was scared. The act was fast and had no tenderness. I had no desire to participate because I was feeling dirty and shame and vulnerable and confused about all that had just transpired that night. There was nothing in the act that had anything to do with me and I felt it as clearly as I felt the cold air on my bare skin. He had gotten aroused by the women in the wet t-shirts and damn if he wasn’t going to get his “needs” taken care of. It was all about him and him getting off. It left me feeling even more broken by the events of the entire night.
Immediately afterwards we got into the car and drove to my house in town where he dropped me off. Our house was set between the two main roads passing through town with big windows facing each side, so it was easy for me to watch the direction he went after depositing me at my parents home, and it wasn’t back to his home. I don’t know where he went and who he met up with, that sickened me, the night sickened me, everything about my life sickened me. I wanted to feel safe, loved and cherished more than anything but nights like this weren’t offering any of that up to me.
I knew what had happened was wrong. But I didn’t know how wrong. I had no stories in the news to compare notes with, no friend, parent, teacher or mentor providing me with bits of wisdom about my rights as a young woman. I was trying to figure it out one day at a time on my own, with whatever knowledge I had and how things made me feel, yet it all was so confusing. So much felt wrong causing uncomfortable feelings deep down somewhere in my body and spirit, but I had no idea what to do with any of it.